Different Types of Relationships: An Analytical Approach


There are so many different ways to organize a relationship between two (or more) people. Each situation is unique, dynamic, and fluid, and will likely evolve over time. Here I have taken an analytical and generalized approach to relationships. In my mind there are two major types: romantic and sexual. Often they overlap, sometimes they don’t.

With all these different types of relationships, sometimes the line between faithfulness and cheating can get blurred. That usually happens when the rules/limits/expectations are not fully discussed ahead of time. Essentially cheating can be defined as any sexual contact which violates the parameters of the relationship, and it can happen in any arrangement.

I HIGHLY recommend an open and frank discussion about what’s allowed and what isn’t when engaging in a new relationship. Write it down if necessary, like a kind of contract, to minimize heartbreak. And don’t be afraid to revise the terms and conditions of this contract at any time.

Read on, and feel free to comment with any additions of your own!

Romantic/lifestyle relationships

The Default: Monogamy

When you’re a teenager and someone wants to be your boyfriend/girlfriend, there’s an undiscussed understanding that you will be in a monogamous relationship. That means no flirting, exchanging naughty pics, or engaging in sexual contact with anyone but your partner. It’s become the social default: unless otherwise specified, you are in a monogamous relationship with one person.


The Frowned-upon: Polygamy

Polygamy actually breaks down into two sub-categories: polygyny and polyandry. The first refers to a man who has multiple girlfriends/wives, while his partners are faithful to him. The second is the same thing for a woman with multiple husbands/boyfriends. Often these arrangements have some kind of religious context, but they can also be cultural. A sultan with a harem, for instance, is practicing a polygamous lifestyle.


The New: Polyamory

There are many different ways this sort of relationship can be arranged into multiple sub-categories. At its most fundamental level, polyamory is where each person has multiple monogamous partners with full disclosure. So person A has 3 boyfriends, and is only intimate with those three partners, and each partner knows about the other. These men may also have multiple partners of their own. This arrangement is not just about sex – it’s real intimacy between individuals at different times, kind of like a time share.

Usually combined with monogamy.


The Complicated: Triads et al.

Sometimes there are groups of people who co-habitate together and consider themselves all part of one relationship. This is usually limited to three people but in theory the number can be infinite. They may or may not have sexual contact all at the same time, but they are committed to each person equally.

Usually combined with monogamy. Can be combined with group sex.


The Hierarchy: Primary & Secondary

Some polyamorists categorize their relationships as “primary” and “secondary.” A woman who is married and living with her husband fulltime would consider that her primary relationship, while any others she engages in are considered secondary. It’s a way of prioritizing relationships; if she’s uncomfortable with being open about polyamory with outsiders, she can introduce her primary as her husband. It also minimizes complications with things like property ownership and children – generally things only shared between primaries. Despite the inherent hierarchy of the language of “primary” vs. “secondary,” each relationship is an emotional investment and has a lot of meaning attached to it.

Usually combined with monogamy.


The Challenging: Ethical Non-Monogamy

This is otherwise known as the “open relationship.” Like polyamory, this arrangement has a lot of variables to consider. There are dozens, if not hundreds of ways to personalize this type of relationship. At its core, essentially it means person A is involved with one person romantically, with potentially infinite casual hookups on the side. There is a clear compartmentalization of sex and emotions, with only their partner getting love and romance.

Can be combined with friends with benefits, fuck buddies, one night stands, swinging, power exchange, and group sex.



The Specialist: Power Exchange

I will not go into great detail about this type of relationship because it could have books written about this category alone. Suffice to say some people enjoy being dominant – that is, having power and control over the pleasure of others, while those who enjoy giving up control are submissive.

There are varying degrees of control one person can have/give up. Some go into it as a total lifestyle where every aspect of their lives is micromanaged by another – sexual, social, and financial. Most adopt this lifestyle only on weekends as an escape from their usual routine or to provide balance (those who are dominant in real life are often, though not always, sexually submissive).

It’s important to note that being dominant or submissive does not necessarily involve a romantic attachment, nor does it always involve whips and chains. Romantic attachment (ie: love and emotional fulfillment) can be present between a dom/sub, or the relationship can be strictly sexual in nature. Doms may choose to have only one sub at a time, or multiple, but subs typically only have one dom.

I will write more details about this in a later post since it’s a topic that deserves more attention.

Can be combined with any other category.

Sexual Relationships


The Uncommon: Cuckolds

This rare arrangement is largely sex-based. It’s where one partner, usually a man (called a cuck), allows his wife/girlfriend to have sexual contact with another man only while he watches. The outside man is called the “bull” and is usually chosen because he is very well endowed. There is no romantic attachment to the bull whatsoever. In some cases, the cuck is taunted and teased by either the bull or the wife for being an inadequate lover. This is all done with prior knowledge and consent of all parties.

Usually combined with power exchange and ethical non-monogamy, can be combined with friends with benefits, fuck buddies, or one night stands.


The Thrilling: Swinging

Swinging is actually a type of ethical non-monogamy where the only sexual contact outside the relationship takes place by both partners at the same time. Essentially this is where two couples swap partners for an evening of sexual contact, with full consent and knowledge of what the others are doing. They may or may not be in the same room but are usually in the same abode when this happens. This is becoming increasingly common as people try to spice up their sex lives while minimizing the potential for jealousy. Because the sexual activities are done together at the same time, some people consider this a monogamous arrangement.

Can be combined with monogamy, ethical non-monogamy, group sex, and power exchange.


The Coveted: Friends With Benefits

This is a very popular arrangement for many, as you get the best of many worlds: regular sex, great company, and no commitment. It is highly sought after by both sexes, as there are no limitations to the amount of FWB you can have at once. People who are practicing ethical non-monogamy may have FWB in addition to their committed partner, or FWB can be single and not looking for any attachments.

Can be combined with ethical non-monogamy and power exchange.


The Common: Fuck Buddies

Similar to Friends with Benefits, but lacking in friendship. Fuck buddies are just that: acquaintances who have sex every now and then. The relationship is entirely about physical pleasure. Whereas FWB may have a real friendship that is not entirely based on sex, where they can spend time together platonically, fuck buddies generally have no interest in spending time together outside the bedroom. Again, those practicing non-monogamy may have one or more fuck buddies in addition to FWB and one committed partner.

Can be combined with ethical non-monogamy and power exchange.


The Singular: One Night Stands

This is fairly self-explanatory. It’s one night of sex that does not result in a relationship, friendship, or any contact whatsoever. By definition it is an act performed between strangers or new acquaintances.

Can be combined with ethical non-monogamy and power exchange.


The Multiple: Group Sex

This is pretty straightforward: when three or more people are engaged in sexual activities at the same time, it’s considered group sex. This includes threesomes (three partners), orgies (four or more partners), gangbangs (one recipient with multiple givers), bukkake (multiple loads of ejaculate aimed at one person), and could even include swingers.

Can be combined with ethical non-monogamy and power exchange.